Please note that there will be spoilers if you haven’t seen this film. Read with caution!
Before I get into the meat of the review, I just want to say that before watching this film, I really had no prior knowledge of the Batman Beyond world, as I haven’t seen an episode of the TV show or this film in the past. If there are any gaps in my knowledge that you can help pick up on, go ahead and comment what I’ve missed.
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is an animated continuation of the hugely successful TV series Batman Beyond. Released in 2000, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is set in the distant future, where Bruce Wayne is in his 80s and teenager Terry McGinnis has taken over the Batman mantle. After a series of strange break-ins, an old foe of the original Caped Crusader’s emerges, and with no leads and Gotham’s destruction looming, it is up to Batman, alongside Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Barbara Gordon to figure out who it is terrorising them, and to bring them down.
First things first, I thought the plot of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was very novel and interesting. The story is akin to Batman: Under the Red Hood in some ways, especially when considering the corruption of Tim Drake by the Joker in this film to the corruption of Jason Todd in Under the Red Hood. The plot here is very dark and depressing, with themes such as corruption and torture popping up regularly, especially after the twist regarding Tim Drake’s demise around the halfway mark. In my opinion, the extended flashback scene depicting Drake’s downfall was one example of when the film truly soared. Set during the time period of Batman: The Animated Series, it was a really nice throwback to the fan favourite, and it was great to see Batman, Batgirl and Robin fighting against The Joker and Harley Quinn in the time of such a legendary show. Although the film may have relied a bit too heavily on its likeness and relation to Batman: TAS, it was not so obvious that it brought the film down, and if anything it enhanced the film’s plot to draw in fans of TAS as well as those of Batman Beyond.
Although maybe a more general comment on the Batman Beyond franchise rather than just this film, it was really interesting seeing a Batman film set in the future. The dynamics and implications of this were really fascinating, and it was nice to see Bruce, now old and quite haggard, emulating the role of his butler Alfred, who is presumably gone by this point in time. It was also interesting to see Barbara Gordon take over the role of Commissioner from her father James, who we also presume has passed, and it enhanced the film’s underlying theme of the new replacing the old, in every sense, not just the heroes but also the villains. It was so interesting to see all the characters we have grown accustomed to as being young and flexible, such as Tim Drake and Bruce Wayne, being much older and more prone to attack. However, I wasn’t all that big a fan of the character of Terry McGinnis, the teenager who took over from Bruce, as we never got to know his character. There was plenty of exposition in the film, for example explaining the role of Tim Drake and who Jim Gordon was, but I was surprised to see there was nothing to do with Terry, and I would’ve cared much more for him if we had been told something about his origin, although this may be my issue because as I said, I’ve never seen an episode of Batman Beyond. Also, please say this isn’t just me, but does Terry look like Gary from Team America: World Police?
Voice acting is also pretty good in this film, which is now to be expected from DC Animated materials. Kevin Conroy is superb (as usual) as Bruce Wayne, but it was an entirely different performance from him now that his character no longer wears the cape and cowl. His character sounded much more vulnerable, both physically and emotionally, and this helped to give Bruce layers never before seen from this canon. It was a Conroy performance like no other, and it cements his position as the unparalleled true Batman. My other standout in this film was Angie Harmon as Commissioner Barbara Gordon. Although I haven’t seen her (or heard her in fact) in anything else, her performance was heartfelt and emotional, and never before have I appreciated the character of Barbara as much as I did here. Of course, how could I talk about voice acting here without mentioning one of the best performances in animated history: Mark Hamill as the Joker? His performance is, as always, absolutely terrifying and spellbinding, and he perfectly captured the madness, brutality and downright insanity of the Joker here, and one could argue that it was his best Joker performance yet.
Unfortunately, not all was well and dandy with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. As I’ve mentioned before, I wasn’t a fan of the Terry McGinnis character because we never really got to know him, which meant I wasn’t nearly as emotionally attached to him as I was with Bruce, for example, but mainly most of the other recurring characters, who I felt for. The voice of Terry, played by Will Friedle, felt a bit bland and one-note, which really didn’t help appease my issues. I also felt that the film relied too much upon the legacy of Batman: The Animated Series, not to the point where it was too damaging, but it was hard for it to flourish on its own when there are comparisons coming left and right to TAS.
Overall, I had a pretty fun time with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. I was so excited coming in to it, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed, however there is definitely room for improvement. If you like your Batman stories dark, gritty and character-driven, or you just love Batman, I can’t recommend this enough. It’s not perfect, but Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker is still a pretty great DC animated film.
I give Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker 8 out of 10.
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